If you're a sexual assault survivor looking for advice on how to pick a lawyer to file a civil lawsuit, consult this guide.
Filing a civil case against an abuser may be emotionally challenging and potentially re-traumatizing. Finding an attorney or lawyer who has experience with sexual abuse cases can be helpful and even provide emotional support or help you work through trauma.
Our mental health and legal experts created this guide of what questions to ask potential attorneys or lawyers when filing a civil lawsuit under the Child Victims Act or Adult Survivors Act. Here are some questions you can ask to help you find the right lawyer or attorney.
How Much Experience the Attorney or Lawyer Has with Sexual Abuse Cases
You can also look at the firm’s website to see if they have experience with sexual abuse cases. If the website has a laundry list of case types, such as motorcycle accidents, car accidents, medical malpractice, etc., the firm might not have expertise in sexual abuse cases.
How They Help Their Clients Manage the Emotional Challenges that Come with Filing Cases
You’ll want to feel like your lawyer has both legal expertise and the ability to provide support during triggering or emotionally challenging moments. For example, your lawyer should have a plan for providing emotional support when preparing you for a deposition or trial.
How Much Expertise the Attorney or Lawyer Has Handling Sexual Abuse Cases
To identify expertise you can look for their personal experience with sex abuse trials, opinion or legal articles they wrote, or speeches they give to professional organizations about best practices.
How Long Have They Been Representing Victims of Sexual Abuse
The more specific experience a lawyer has with sex abuse cases, the better. That way they can be better prepared to make good decisions and give good advice.
If the Law Firm or Lawyer’s Primary Office is in New York State
Although you can consider lawyers located out of state, those in New York will likely have a better understanding of The Child Victims Act or Adult Survivors Act. They also may have a deeper understanding of New York State laws.
Does it Matter How Much Money a Lawyer Has Previously Made Their Clients?
Not necessarily. In many cases, firms that tout large settlements didn’t get that settlement through sexual abuse cases.
But more importantly, you should consider a lawyer who cares more about you than about a settlement.
How Expensive Will Filing a Case be?
While this depends mostly on your case, a lawyer should be able to give you a ballpark. They should also be clear about their fees, including any fees for an initial consultation, their hourly rate, and/or how they collect their money.
The lawyer should also be upfront about whether they take on cases against abusers with fewer assets.
In cases against institutions, lawyers may accept payment after the trial ends.
These are all discussions you should have before choosing a lawyer.
What if an Attorney or Lawyer Doesn’t Take my Case?
First, whether a lawyer decides to take a case is not a reflection on your value as a person or the trauma of your abuse. Every victim and survivor deserves access to safety and support.
If a lawyer decides not to take your case, you can explore more options through the NY City Bar Association or the National Crime Victim Bar Association. You can also call our helpline Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 855-234-1042 for more information.
If you don’t want to talk to a lawyer, you don’t have to. Survivors process trauma in many different ways, and a legal case isn’t right for everyone.
Even if you don’t file a case, you might still want support. If you do, Safe Horizon is here for you. Call our free, 24-hour hotline at 1-800-621-HOPE (4673).